Bradbury and One More for the Road

In 2009, when I was eighteen, I discovered Ray Bradbury.

 

I can’t remember where I first came across his work, but I do recall being enamored with it enough to check a collection of his out of my local library, a big ‘ol hardback totaling something like 900 pages. I don’t remember the title (I know, I’m terrible), but after a little bit of detective work, I’m pretty sure it was The Stories of Ray Bradbury (1980). I didn’t read all of the stories, but I read most of them, and by the time I was done, I thought Bradbury was cool. Maybe not the best, but cool nonetheless.

 

Flash forward six years. 2015. I was rummaging through a local bookstore here in the Daytona Beach area when I came across a Bradbury paperback. One More for the Road, a modest short story collection gathering a few of his older works with some “newer” titles (the most recent, I think, was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2001). Of course, I snapped it up. It’s Bradbury. He’s cool.

 

Well…

 

I’m not going to lie. One More for the Road sucks. The stories are dry, brisk, and lack clarity: Several times I’ve found myself going back and rereading passages just to get my bearings. They’re missing an indefinable something that I remember the tales in The Stories…possessing.

 

No one can bat a hundred. Not even Bradbury. The man wrote fiction from the late thirties to 2012; of course he’s going to have a few stinkers. But now I’m starting to wonder if the problem isn’t me. Were those stories I read so long ago really as good as I remember them? Have my tastes matured, or simply changed? I can’t say. Looking back I remember really liking a few of those stories, especially Night Call, Collect and The Small Assassin. Did Bradbury’s style work for me then? Is One More for the Road Bradbury on an off day? Is Bradbury just overrated? I don’t know.

 

But I do know that One More for the Road just isn’t cutting it. I plan on finishing it, but it isn’t as magical as I hoped it would be, and for that, I am endlessly disappointed.

The Face of Horror

 

The man to have the most profound impact on the horror genre as we know it wasn’t Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, or even Edgar Allen Poe; it was Ed Gein, a mild-mannered Midwestern farmer.

 

I.                 The Movies

 

In 1960, British director Alfred Hitchcock terrified audiences with “Psycho,” the story of a man, his mother, and a rundown motel where pretty young girls (and nosey private eyes) disappear with alarming regularity. A stroke of cinematic brilliance, Psycho made 15 million dollars at the box office and was nominated for four Academy Awards. Considered one of the greatest movies ever made, it caused a controversy upon its release for a number of reasons, one being its “graphic” (for 1960) depiction of sex and violence; a woman is briefly seen in a bra, and two people are brutally murdered onscreen, their deaths in full view of the audience.

Despite the moral outrage surrounding it, Psycho set the bar for all horror films to follow, and was inducted into the Library of Congress’s Film Registry in 1992, deemed “Culturally or historically significant.”

Though it may be considered dull and slow paced by today’s standards, it was truly shocking stuff in 1960. It was (and is) one of those rare films that leaves its audience winded and shaking at the end.

Much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Fourteen years Psycho’s junior, Chainsaw premiered in the autumn of 1974. Made on a shoestring budget, the film, which follows a group of teenagers being picked off one-by-one by a family of backwoods cannibals, grossed 30 million dollars during its initial run. A contender for greatest film (horror or otherwise) of all time, Chainsaw’s enduring popularity has led to a number of sequels, several remakes, millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise, and even an Atari 2600 video game (one of the first horror-themed games ever released).

Unarguably one of the best horror films of all time, Chainsaw nevertheless owes much of its popularity to a misconception: as a marketing strategy, its director, Tobe Hooper, claimed that it was based on a true story. To this day, many fans believe that Leatherface and his depraved family of man-eaters actually existed. The fact of the matter is, they didn’t. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was not based on a true story.

But, like Psycho, it was inspired by one.

 

II.               The Man

 

Born in 1906 La Crosse, Wisconsin, Ed Gein spent an oppressive childhood in nearby Plainfield. Completely dominated by his religious zealot mother, Gein was taught early on that the world was innately evil and that all women (with the exception of her) were whores. Neither he nor his brother, Henry, were allowed friends or a social life, and divided their time between school, chores, and nightly Bible readings.

Sheltered from the world until his father’s death in 1940, Gein began working odd jobs to help with household bills, making his money mainly by babysitting. In 1944, Henry Gein was killed in a brush fire on the family property, and Eddie has mother to himself.

But not for long.

Mother died in 1945, and Gein was crushed; he sealed her room off from the rest of the house and confined himself to a small room off the kitchen. During the ensuing years, Gein, who had always been an avid reader, began devouring lurid pulp magazines and anatomical texts.

Around 1947, he began visiting local cemeteries while in a “daze-like” state. With the aid of a mentally challenged man named Gus, Gein robbed something like forty graves, sometimes taking whole bodies, and others only choice bits and pieces.

In 1954, Gein graduated from grave robbery to murder. His first victim was Mary Hogan, a local tavern owner who went missing from her bar one night along with the cash register. Three years later, in 1957, a hardware store owner named Bernice Worden disappeared. Luckily, her son knew that Gein would be stopping by that day, and alerted authorities.

What the police found in that decaying farmhouse would haunt them for the rest of their lives: severed heads adorning the walls like fine art; tanned flesh stretched across lampshades and chair cushions; skulls sitting atop bedposts; and a box of female genitalia moldering in a corner. To cap it all off, Bernice Worden was in the kitchen, her headless body gutted and hanging from a meat hook.

The discovery of Gein’s crimes stunned the nation. An author named Robert Bloch, who lived a few towns over from Gein, heard about the story and made it into a book: “Psycho,” which Alfred Hitchcock later adapted. Tobe Hooper was also heavily inspired by the case (the chainsaw part was all him, though; trapped in a crowded mall during the holiday shopping season, he spotted a chainsaw in a hardware store and considered taking it up and cutting his way to the door). The events portrayed in Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre never happened, despite what you might hear to the contrary.

Ed Gein, however, did.

 

III.             The Myth

 

Though he never wrote a word in his life, Gein did more to shape modern horror than almost anyone else; two of the most culturally significant horror films ever made owe their very existence to him. They are often referenced and paid homage to in films, books, and television shows, and frequently top various greatest ever lists. In the annals of crime, Gein’s case is still famous as one of the most bizarre and depraved. A number of biopics have been made about his life (such as Ed Gein, 2000, and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield, 2007) and countless films have fictionalized his story, among them Three on a Meat Hook (1973), Deranged (1974), and Maniac (1980).

Unfortunately, Gein died in a mental asylum in 1984, never knowing the impact of his crimes. Today, his name is remembered by only a discerning few. His legacy, however, lives on.

I Was Born in 1991…But I Grew Up in The 80′s

Great realizations seem to always strike at the most random of moments. A little earlier today, while idly watching Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers on AMC’s Fear Fest, I came to a great realization about myself. Or rather…this sneaking suspicion that I had solidified into a tangible realization.

Halloween 5 exemplifies the type of movie I loved growing up. Released in 1989, it’s a schlocky slasher sequel (say that five times fast!) full of blood, teens, and sex. It embodies the era in which it was made. The characters, the clothes, the cars…they’re all so fucking eighties it hurts.

To paraphrase a classic opening line: As far back as I can remember, I loved the eighties. I loved the music, the fashion, the vintage electronics, the movies. The whole nine yards. Hell, I still do. Though I dig pretty much everything that happened between 1955 and 1990, the eighties holds a special place in my heart.

I’ve often wondered why. I mean, why didn’t I wind up like so many of my peers, living in (and digging) the here and now?

Today, the answer hit me.

When I was a kid, my cinematic diet consisted of eighties horror movies…supplemented by the occasional eighties non horror movie: The Goonies. Back to the Future. And was I a glutton! I binged on movies before it was cool. All day, every day. I guess you could say that, to me, they were the world. The eighties slang, the eighties dress…that was all normal to me…as normal as it was to anyone who actually grew up in the eighties. Hell, for all intents and purposes, I did grow up in the eighties. I spent so much time immersed in the world of Marty McFly and  Clark Griswold that I got lost and never came back to my own world. I disappeared down the rabbit hole and dropped into the middle of the year 1985. My idea of a “cool guy” is the same as some moviemaker’s from 1988. The Lost Boys. I don’t know if that’s the first one I saw or not, but I think everyone in that movie is cool as fuck. The perms. The leather jackets.

Movies are like time travel, aren’t they? Perfectly formed little capsules of the times they represent. I took a time machine to the past and liked it. Maybe that’s my personality type. Maybe if I was someone else I would have found my way back.

But I’m not someone else. I got stuck in the decade of excess and you know what? I’m glad I did. It was a hell of a time to grow up, after all.

In Answer to John Shirley On “Fear The Walking Dead” and Torture

“The word ends in prime time” would be an apt description of Fear The Walking Dead (AMC). A ‘companion” to the network’s The Walking Dead, Fear explores the fall of society to the ravenous undead, a topic that was glossed over in TWD. Set in Los Angeles, Fear follows the efforts of a family (and others) to survive as the city slowly and inexorably dies. Several episodes in, the army arrives, establishing a safe zone. Later, soldiers round up several characters in the dead of night and ship them to a field hospital. Comparisons to Gestapo raids are most likely not coincidental.

Desperate to rescue his wife from the clutches of her fascist captors, barber Daniel Salazar (who is revealed to have been a torturer for an authoritarian South American) kidnaps army corporal Andrew Adams, straps him to a chair, and tortures her location out of him.

The sight of an American soldier tied to a chair is uncomfortable. In a recent article for Raw Story (“The Walking Dead Spin-off Promotes Torture…So I’ve Walked Away’), noted science fiction writer John Shirley states that he will no longer watch the series because “It positively dramatized the false notion that “torture works.” Torturing people, we learn, apparently produces useful results.”

Let’s start here.

Torture is generally acknowledged to be a poor method of intelligence gathering (its moral implications nonwithstanding), as it often produces counterproductive results: Under extreme duress, people are liable to say anything it takes to stay the torturer’s hand. But to suggest that torture has never, under any circumstances, ever worked, ever, is ludicrous. Yes, it is largely ineffective, but its success rate isn’t zero.

To bolster his assertion, Shirley links to CIA data spanning the duration of the War on Terror. The problem here is this: Basing such a wide reaching claim as “torture never works” on a single fifteen year operation is narrow-sighted. Also, many of the prisoners taken by the US during the war were either innocent or low level operatives who knew next to nothing.

 

Later, Shirley states: “Even if torture did occasionally provide good information in real life, you’d still be wrong to characterize it in that way in television drama. You’re still effectively recommending torture to millions of minds unconsciously soaking up these ideas. Zombies aren’t real, people aren’t going to believe in them, unconsciously or not. But they know torture is real.”

This is the part that really bothers me. Shirley is saying that regardless if torture works sometimes, it should never be depicted working; it must always be depicted in a politically correct fashion lest feeble-minded Americans get the wrong idea.

Look, you can show torture failing all you want, but removing the realistic possibility of it working is dishonest. You’re trading reality for a politically sanitized half-truth.

Interestingly, Shirley makes the claim that Salazar will most likely escape punishment for his actions. Had he stuck around for the final episode instead of storming off in a huff, he would have seen Adams escape and shoot Salazar’s daughter. Why? Because Salazar tortured him. That’s called karma. Salazar did something wrong and something bad happened to him. I trust that most Americans can plainly ascertain that for themselves.